Month: March 2011

SF Routesy founder on open data, advice to developers and government

Routesy is a public transit iPhone app built on DataSF open data that includes real-time schedule information for San Francisco Muni, BART, Caltrain and AC Transit. GovFreshTV talked with founder and developer Steven Peterson about his experiences creating the app and asked him to share his advice to civic developers and government.

Full interview:

Advice to government:

“Government really should be working with developers to figure out what formats they can provide data in in order for developers to create the best products possible. They should also continue to just be open and publish as much data as possible, because that’s really where the innovation and technology around that data is going to come from.”

Advice to developers:

“Take advantage of the large amount of data that’s actually available from the city and other public sources. There are a lot of great things that haven’t been built yet and really a lot of opportunities to take that public domain stuff and make it into something really useful. I would also advise developers to actively talk to people in government and to let them know what data they want available that’s not available and to make sure everything’s working the way it’s supposed to and to have a good relationship with those public officials.”

Download Routesy on iTunes or connect on Facebook and Twitter.

Free EcoFinder iPhone app simplifies SF recycling

EcoFinder

EcoFinder is a free iPhone app that helps San Francisco residents and businesses find recycle locations throughout the city, including electronics, appliances and mattresses. Users can filter drop-off/pick-up options by free or pay services.

EcoFinder was created using open data from SF Environment as part of San Francisco’s open data initiative and developed by Haku Wale in partnership with SF Environment, Nextive and AdMob.

Video overview:

Former DC CTO Sivak discusses tenure, changing the culture of government

Bryan Sivak

Personal Democracy Forum’s TechPresident recently held an excellent PdF Network call with former Washington, DC, Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak titled Digital DC- How to Create a New Culture of Digital Government. Sivak discusses his time in office, ideas and challenges around changing the culture of government, and the politics of transition.

Quotable:

“My view of the job was to point the ship in a very specific direction and make course corrections along the way as things came up. The folks that are pulling the oars, the ones that are out there doing the work, are the ones I think have the best ideas about ways to make various processes and products more efficient and better. A big part of my job was to provide air cover if the ideas didn’t work out or needed to be tweaked if something went wrong. I really had to make it not only OK to fail but to celebrate rapid and cheap failure as successes as opposed to losses.”

With regards to his next career move, Sivak is currently reviewing options:

“My heart is probably on the entrepreneur side … because I love building things from scratch, creating new and interesting things out of whole cloth, but at the same time, there’s so much opportunity to do good in the public sector and bring some of these interesting ideas to the table. If you do find the right elected official work for, the world is your oyster. You can make a huge amount of difference in a short period of time.”

Full story · Download

Listen

[audio:http://personaldemocracy.com/files/audio/317.mp3]

Big Blue guide to implementing open government

An Open Government Implementation Model: Moving to Increased Public EngagementFinally got around to reading the IBM Center for the Business of Government’s guide to implementing open government and wanted to share highlights. The report, An Open Government Implementation Model: Moving to Increased Public Engagement, was written by professors Young Hoon Kwak (The George Washington University) and Gwanhoo Lee (American University), and their research is based on 5 case studies from within the Department of Health and Human Services.

Below are the phases (with select excerpts), challenges and recommendations identified in the report.

4 stages to implementing open government

Open Government Implementation Model

1. Increasing Data Transparency

As the Pareto Principle (i.e., the 80/20 Rule) suggests, agencies should focus on the top 20 percent of their data that would most benefit the public. To do so, agencies need to put in place an effective governance structure and process to formally identify relevant data, assure its quality, and publish it in a timely manner. Data quality is extremely critical as low quality data may misinform and mislead the public about government work and performance. Once unreliable data is published and shared, it is very difficult to recall the information without causing damage to the agencies’ reputation and to the public’s trust of the agencies.

2. Improving Open Participation

It is important for agencies at this stage to build the capability to respond to the public’s feedback in a timely and consistent manner. This capability requires formal processes, coordination mechanisms, and government employees dedicated to responding to public comments.

3. Enhancing Open Collaboration

The Pareto Principle or the 80/20 Rule applies not only to Stage One but also to Stages Two and Three. Agencies at Stages One to Three should not try to implement everything; they should only select high- value, high-impact initiatives and focus on strengthening what is working rather than worrying too much about what is not working.

4. Realizing Ubiquitous Engagement

Agencies at Stage Four put an effective governance structure and process in place to enable continuous improvement and innovation of public engagement programs. Furthermore, the agencies, the public, the private sector, and other stakeholders form and nurture a sustainable ecosystem and a virtuous cycle for effective public engagement.

Challenges

  1. Federal budget cycle and lack of resources
  2. Changing organizational culture
  3. Ensuring the quality of data
  4. Increasing public interest and engagement
  5. Balancing autonomy and control
  6. Ensuring accountability and responsibility in open collaboration
  7. Improving information technology infrastructure
  8. Enhancing privacy and information security
  9. Integrating open government tools and applications
  10. Updating federal policies and rules

Recommendations

  1. Use a phased implementation approach
  2. Use a democratic, bottom-up approach
  3. Consider conducting pilot projects and/or establishing centers for excellence
  4. Secure necessary resources
  5. Prioritize the use of the 80/20 rule
  6. Align open government initiatives with the agency’s goals
  7. Establish governance mechanisms for data sharing
  8. Expand the number of metrics over time
  9. Address cultural barriers
  10. Make public engagement an everyday routine
  11. Institutionalize incentives
  12. Establish enterprise architecture early in the process
  13. Integrate public engagement applications
  14. Develop communities of practice
  15. Develop and communicate a government-wide strategy

Download full report (pdf)

Everything you ever wanted to know about FOIA in 17 short videos

It’s movie night for open government advocates.

Sunshine Week is the Bonnaroo for freedom of government information activists and, to celebrate the festivities and launch of the new FOIA.gov, the Justice Department has produced 17 videos to help explain everything you ever wanted to know about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

What is FOIA?

What is FOIA.gov?

What is on FOIA.gov?

Who can make a FOIA request?

How do I make a FOIA request?

Where do I send a FOIA request?

Who oversees FOIA?

How are FOIA requests categorized?

What will I receive in response to a FOIA request?

How much does it cost to make a FOIA request?

How long does it take to get an answer to a FOIA request?

How is a FOIA request processed?

Who handles FOIA requests?

What is a consultation?

What is a backlog?

What is an appeal?

What are exemptions?

KAP founder Sarah Schacht on OpenGovWest, prioritizing government technology

Sarah SchachtAs planning for the next OpenGovWest gets underway, I talked with open government veteran Sarah Schacht last week about the work she’s doing around the event, as well as her role as executive director and founder of Knowledge As Power. Schacht shares her thoughts on her work, organizing events at the local level, what government technology issues we should be paying attention to and advice to government.


What are you working on these days?

There’s several different projects running concurrently at Knowledge As Power. These include: Expanding our free legislation tracking & civic engagement tool, KAPcitizen to cover the Seattle City Council and other states and local governments. Releasing our creative-commons licensed civics curriculum called “Act & Impact” to 8th to 12th grade teachers for testing, use, and revision. With a grant from Seattle, we’re launching a civics skills building program in Q2. Advisory work with governments, helping them modernize their legislative and document information systems through standards adoption. We’re running low-cost usability studies for government websites, like the one we did for Seattle.gov. And, there’s Open Gov West, our Western North America open government conference May 13th & 14th in Portland, Oregon. And, I’m starting work on a book about the underlying challenges to opening our governments.

Talk a little more about the importance of Open Gov West and the regional focus?

Open Gov West (OGW) was my idea to get governments, technologists, and civic stakeholders talking about the common challenges they had in opening their governments. Even now, I think a lot of governments feel like the IT or transparency issues they have are their unique problem. When these problems are widespread. You’re not the only government with no IT training budget, so your skills stagnate. You’re not the only government who is locked into some tool from 1998 for getting your Word documents online in some awful format. And those governments you think are all high tech? Well, those were hard-fought battles to modernize and the people inside those governments still don’t feel like they achieved what they set out to do. They didn’t have a special sauce, they just worked hard.

OGW is designed to highlight the stories, experience, and research of people doing the hard work of opening government, modernizing their tools, and engaging their citizens effectively. It’s not about flashy new technology trends. Frankly, the technology trend that needs to take hold is sharing, experimenting, and asking for help. People seem to like OGW events, we’ve had nearly 1,000 attendees across our three conferences in the last year and our local meetups.

So, OGW is the place to get great ideas, learn from others, build relationships, and participate in collaborative projects. It’s also a place you can trust that people who are speaking are there because we thought they had something valuable to say, not because they’re friends or because they sponsored.

What are the 3 most important open government / government technology issues we should be paying attention to?

  1. Technology – Standardization. Governments are not precious snowflakes that will melt under adhering to shared standards. However, they are at greater risk of “melting” during an emergency situation, rapid technology changes, and generational change.
  2. Technology – Open document standards. It is critical that North American governments familiarize themselves with international, open, free standards for formatting their documents in XML & RDF. They’re called Akoma Ntoso and Dublin Core, and I trained on them in Italy this past fall. The proprietary, non-machine-readable formats of our current documents are a huge concern in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Why? Because they believe they won’t be machine-readable in 30 to 50 years. Imagine that. We could lose legislative records our judiciary depends on, and that’s just one branch of government that would be impacted.
  3. Open Government – If anything, public disclosure laws, even a few portions of the US constitution, mandate making documents and information publicly available. In the past, “available” was defined by the technology you had to share information. Perhaps that was a hardcopy journal. Or printed documents. Or microfiche. Or once-a-week updates in html. But there is now the capacity to instantly share, to do so with respect to privacy, and to make your data.gov sites or web service repositories for documents of all sorts. So, I think we’ll see a day where courts and citizens question the need to request anything. Governments aren’t preparing for that day, and I think they need to.

What advice do you have for government to address these?

There’s no denying that these are tough times in government. But, to borrow a folksy phrase, don’t eat your seed corn. Your IT teams, and modernizing your technology, are your seed corn. You want to do more with less? Great, invest in the skills and technology of your IT departments.

The UK has a two year plan promoted by Martha Lane Fox and 10 Downing to move a majority of citizen interactions with government online by 2012. They’re one of the few governments who have quantified the potential cost-savings in moving citizen interactions with government, online. With moving just one interaction per week online, the UK estimates that’s a savings of £1 billion pounds per year. The currency conversion on that is $1,614,800,000 US. If we were to say that this converted straight across to per-citizen savings, that’s approximately $26.11 in savings, per citizen, per year. Around eight billion dollars in savings a year, nationally. For a city like Seattle, that could be $14,711,554. What would your government be able to do with that level of savings? How could you serve your citizens better with that extra money?

The problem is, US governments aren’t in a position right now to leverage the online interactions their citizens are ready for. Their underlying processes, staff culture, and technology aren’t designed to engage in a data-driven, machine-readable system. Instead of investing in modernizing your document and database systems in open, standardized ways, governments are slashing IT training budgets, cutting their IT staff, delaying improvements, or investing in old technology to realize relatively small cost-savings.

If you’re eating your seed corn, put a stop to it and start planting your crops.

Follow Knowledge As Power on Twitter. Follow OpenGovWest on Facebook and Twitter.

Gov 2.0 guide to Plone

Plone is a secure and flexible open source content management system (CMS) for building all types of web sites and web applications. Supported by a vibrant developer community that is ranked in the top 2% of open source projects worldwide, a large number of domestic and international public sector organizations, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, rely on Plone to power their digital communications. Plone’s widespread adoption by high-profile users is due in no small measure to the project's open source codebase and unrivaled security record. These attributes continue to differentiate Plone from other CMS solutions. Given the increased importance of cyber security for all levels of government, one can expect to see continued (if not increased) adoption of Plone in the public sector despite strong competition from other open source and proprietary rivals.

Security

According to the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures Database maintained by MITRE Corporation, the security record of Plone is unrivaled. In fact, the number of high severity, publicly known vulnerabilities for Plone is orders of magnitude lower than all three of its main open source rivals:

Source: Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures List, MITRE Corporation

For many government organizations, Plone’s proven security track-record is the most important feature highlighted during CMS selection.

Community

While security often takes center stage when one mentions Plone, the vibrancy and size of its developer and user community are themselves important features of the solution. Despite periods of increased and decreased interest in the project over its ten year life cycle, Plone maintains one of the strongest open source developer communities. At present, Plone’s community is massively global, with over 300 solution providers in 57 countries. There also are dozens of official local user groups and hundreds of unofficial ones thanks to Plone’s ongoing support of 40 languages. Finally, the project has strong ties to the wider Python and JavaScript (including the JQuery Javascript Framework) communities due to its heavy reliance on these languages.

Other Features

The release of the latest version of Plone in 2010 provided a major reinvigoration for the project. While continuing to emphasize security and usability, Plone 4 delivered big improvements in raw speed and scalability. These features help Plone better respond to the needs of complex web site and web application uers – the segment of the CMS market where Plone excels.

Real-World Implementations

Perhaps no better driver exists for the adoption of an emerging software solution than real-world examples of successful implementations for comparable requirements. Since its release almost a decade ago, Plone has secured a number of high-profile public sector organizations. These implementations demonstrate its ability to meet even the most complex functional and security requirements. Plone also has been adopted by thousands of local and state governments, nonprofits, and other public sector organizations. These implementations illustrate how organizations big and small can leverage Plone to build beautiful websites that meet a broad spectrum of user needs and security considerations.

Brazilian Government

The Government of Brazil leveraged Plone to power Portal Brasil, the government’s main web portal. Plone also is being used by both the President and the Parliament.

Federal Bureau of Investigation

The FBI has made a major investment in Plone. Its latest redesign demonstrates its ongoing commitment to the platform. It also illustrates the ability for Plone to support a wide variety of functional requirements through native support or integration.

U.S. Department of Energy

The Department of Energy required a web-based delivery for mission-critical documents called directives. Their emphasis was on security, sophisticated search, versioning, and role management rather than asthetics. They selected Plone for their CMS to meet their enterprise document management needs.

European Environment Agency

The EEA is responsible for producing and disseminating important environmental information to EU citizens. The organization selected Plone as its CMS of record for its main external website.

City of Bern

Bern is one of the largest cities in Switzerland. The city turned to Plone for their main website. This implementation demonstrates Plone’s potential to meet local government needs.

Chile

The National Library of Congress of Chile built an integrated website platform based upon Plone. The platform integrates with Oracle, Autonomy, D-Space, and PostgreSQL. It helps the government advance open government as well as open data.

Plone and the National Library of Congress of Chile from Matt Hamilton on Vimeo.

Unites Nations

The United Nations relies on Plone to power a number of the organization’s websites, including UNDP Asia-Pacific Development Implementation Programme and the UN Asian and Pacific Training Center for Information and Communication Technology for Development.

New Zealand

The Companies Office in New Zealand turned to Plone to meet its external communications requirements.

South Africa

The Department of Science and Technology funds a premier research facility, named SAEON, that establishes and maintains nodes (environmental observatories, field stations or sites) linked by an information management network to serve as research and education platforms for long-term studies of ecosystems. The organization’s website is built using Plone.

Nordic Council

The Nordic Council is a major intergovernmental forum that facilitates engagement between Nordic countries. The Council chose Plone for their main website.

Will the real civtech community please stand up (and help save Bell, CA)?

Bell, CAThe New York Times reports that The City of Bell, CA, famous for getting swindled out of $5 million by its own public officials is now holding a $4 million budget gap and a new city council, none of whom have experience running a city.

If Gov 2.0 wants a moment of glory, here’s your silver platter.

During manor.govfresh last September, we did a Gov 2.0 Makeover for DeLeon, TX, including an updated website, Google Apps, social media integration and a number of other behind-the-scenes technology upgrades. Several companies graciously donated their technology. More recently, Facebook is leveraging its technology skills and taking initiative to help the community where it’s building its new headquarters.

So, civic developers, barcampers and hackathoners, here’s an opportunity to stand up and show how Gov 2.0 can impact a city right now. Think Code for America on steroids.

Companies like SeeClickFix, Phase One, Spigit and many others targeting the government market with lower-cost, new tech alternatives, here’s a golden opportunity to showcase your goods and gain a huge amount of social capital by offering your products for free (forever).

I’m willing to help any way I can. Speaking from firsthand experience helping DeLeon, it’s not trivial work. The leaders of Bell will have to think ‘startup.gov,’ just as De Leon did, and accept they must execute immediately and step out of the bureaucratic mindset (something tells me they will). Volunteers and sponsor companies will have to let go of egos and upsells and just get it done.

Six months from now Bell could be a ‘beta city,’ and the rest of the world will better understand how technology can revolutionize the way government works.

Who wants to take the lead and contact Bell right now? Leave messages in the comments to offer your support/services or contact me directly at luke@govfresh.com if you have ideas on how we can just do this.

DeLeon did it. So can Bell.

So can we.

Celebrating International Women’s Day with 100+ women in government technology

Secretary Clinton Launches the “100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges"

Secretary Clinton Launches the “100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges"

Today is International Women’s Day. Women’s organizations around the world will be celebrating and talking about all kinds of women’s issues, including our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who launched a bold new initiative. People might tweet about it and the fact that it’s the 100th anniversary. One of the many positive things that come from the day is acknowledgment of many achievements made by great women over time.

We have some amazing women doing great work in government innovation, and GovTwit’s Steve Lunceford reminded me that it’s been nearly a year since we highlighted these women on GovFresh, so this seemed like a good time to update the list. If you know of women who aren’t on it and should be, please note their names in the comments. And if you have Twitter IDs for them, even better. I’m maintaining a gov20women Twitter list where they can all be found and contacted easily.

Secretary Clinton may be the most prominent American voice on behalf of women around the world, but she is not the only one, and it’s important that we continue highlighting the work done by these women around the country and around the world every day to promote not only equality and human rights, but also innovation and openness in government.

Secretary Clinton’s International Women’s Day video message:

Routesy founder talks open data, gives advice to civic developers and government

Routesy is a public transit iPhone app built on DataSF open data that includes real-time schedule information for San Francisco Muni, BART, Caltrain and AC Transit. GovFreshTV talked with founder and developer Steven Peterson about his experiences creating the app and asked him to share his advice to civic developers and government.

Peterson answers the following questions:

  • What is Routesy?
  • What challenges did you face developing Routesy?
  • What advice do you have for civic developers?
  • What open data advice do you have for government?

Full interview:

Advice to developers:

“Take advantage of the large amount of data that’s actually available from the city and other public sources. There are a lot of great things that haven’t been built yet and really a lot of opportunities to take that public domain stuff and make it into something really useful. I would also advise developers to actively talk to people in government and to let them know what data they want available that’s not available and to make sure everything’s working the way it’s supposed to and to have a good relationship with those public officials.”

Advice to government:

“Government really should be working with developers to figure out what formats they can provide data in in order for developers to create the best products possible. They should also continue to just be open and publish as much data as possible, because that’s really where the innovation and technology around that data is going to come from.”

Download Routesy on iTunes or connect on Facebook and Twitter.